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Who says you Can or Can’t?

What more evidence do we need?

(this post is a follow-up to “Paper Wine Bottle to Rescue Wine Sales” and an interesting, but now unfortunately lost < and FOUND again>, conversation on Facebook about resistance to innovation)

underwood wine can

Quality wines in a can from Underwood (c) David L Reamer

The Drinks Business writes an article about a packaging innovation and (cynically?) makes sure to include a reference to cheaper commercial beer brands in the first sentence.

Then, when the WSET, bastion of the international wine trade’s education, decides to post the article to their facebook page they get 20+ comments of which, to date, 95% are negative and yet not one person has tasted the wine or even seen a can.

Reactions include:
- homeless people all over the world are cheering hahahahahahahha
- Hideous !!! No romance no enjoyment .. We finally except (sic) screw caps and now this insulting slap in the face ! What’s wrong with the bottle all of a sudden ?
- how to appreciate the colour of the wine? what about influencing the taste using beerification? I wont buy it!

Following my recent post on paper wine bottles, and while the Wine Vision conference is apparently bemoaning the lack of innovation in the wine business and our inability to reach consumers, when anyone tries something new it is immediately rejected. Why?

  • You can’t test the quality of a wine in a bottle any more than in a can (except for the recent invention of the Coravin)
  • You don’t have to drink it from the can any more than you drink it from the bottle, you still can choose to use a Zalto glass if you want
  • Wine is aged in stainless steel, what can be wrong with temporary storage / transport in an airtight can?

If anyone had bothered to look, people who HAVE tried the Underwood product seem to like it. Here’s Cool Hunting for example:

“We found the product to be novel and the experience enjoyable, but we were surprised by how great the wine was—causing us to rethink previous notions about bottling.”

Come on people, let’s be a bit more positive. What is really stopping us? We might actually do something that is cool for a change

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Paper Wine Bottle to Rescue Wine Sales?

Does this bottle represent a way to safeguard the future of the wine trade in the UK? This is a bottle made from recycled paper, a plastic liner, and a simple, but effective design. It seems unlikely, yet I find it very exciting.

Paperboy, Paper Bottle

Paperboy, Paper Bottle

If you remove the financial and environmental costs of glass bottles, and put that BACK into producer & retailer margins, you can still reduce the cost of the wine being sold in retail channels and have money to invest in marketing and branding. Once the door is open to packaging innovation, why stop with paper? There are pouches, tetrapacks, boxes, cans and more that fit the above criteria too. We can energise the volume market for wine, helping producers and retailers across the world.

CREATING DIFFERENCE. CREATING VALUE

One of the biggest issues facing the wine trade is our complete inability to explain to consumers why a bottle sold in a supermarket for £5 is any different to one sold via a specialist merchant for £50. This confusion allows supermarkets in particular to benefit from the ‘goodwill’ associated with wine and its aspirational nature. While it helps to sell lots of bottles, it actually damages the general perception of wine. Consumers do not naturally ‘trade-up’ to more expensive bottles once they’ve discovered wine. On the contrary, they eventually stop seeing it as anything special.

This is not about education. It is about branding and marketing.

We have no language to differentiate what a chocolatier might call “Confectionery” in the wine business from “Artisanal” bottles. As far as the consumer sees it, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and tastes like duck, … then it is a duck, and this duck is on special offer!

Here’s my solution, separate the ducks from the … swans. (OK, no more duck analogies).

CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN

Paperboy Promotion

Paperboy Promotion

Instead of trying to “educate” consumers to distinguish wines according to region, grape mix, or wine style, change the cues they really care about. Change the packaging!

The wine sold in supermarkets has certain distinguishing features, chief amongst which is the fact that bottles are consumed within HOURS of being sold, and within mere weeks from being bottled in many cases. They do not need glass bottles, corks, labels and many other costly packaging designed for long-term cellaring.

Many of you dear readers (and I’m guessing the majority will be linked to the wine trade in some way), will object immediately and say “but consumers WANT bottles, corks, etc. and do not like alternative packaging.” I would agree as things stand, but WHY? Because that’s what we TELL them they are supposed to like. Instead of promoting alternatives, we spread our prejudices linked to the wines WE like to drink, which is not what most consumers need to hear.

When something new comes along, either as a style of wine, new packaging or retail innovation, it is often criticised for dumbing down wine, for treating wine “like coca-cola”, for “not really understanding wine”.

Think back 10 years, and how the majority of the trade felt about screwcaps. Nobody wanted them, apparently. They made wine look cheap, apparently. They were simply “not suitable”, apparently. We were told there was no demand from consumers or the trade, apparently.

WRONG! It took a gutsy commitment by the supermarkets, especially Tesco, to promote them positively, to change the mantra, and consumers took to them like ducks to … oops!

We, the trade, should also stop treating all ‘wine’ as the same and create different categories that have their own context. Bottles WILL remain, but they will be a characteristic of the types of wines that need this kind of long-term packaging for ageing and developing.

Instead of looking down on ‘supermarket wine’ we need to promote the best of it, positively. What simpler distinction can we offer consumers?

INNOVATION

Recycling in action

Recycling in action

That’s where Paperboy comes in.

  • This packaging is already made from recycled paper, and it almost entirely recyclable again – WIN
  • It weighs a fraction of the glass equivalent, with a massive saving on shipping, distribution and production costs – WIN
  • It is safe and portable – WIN
  • It opens the possibility to different shapes, branding and formats – WIN

This is not just wine idealism. This product exists and is being enthusiastically backed by Safeway (in the US) and the design has also featured on TheDieline.

I contacted the designers responsible for Paperboy, Stranger & Stranger, already highly respected for their creative designs in the wine and spirits world and asked Kevin Shaw, Founder & Creative Director, a few questions, and he answered in his characteristically direct manner.

Where did the idea for Paperboy originate from? I saw one of these paper bottles a couple of years ago so I assume there is a patent out there that this licences?

One of the partners of Greenbottle approached us with a prototype they’d been showing around but couldn’t get anyone to bite on. I thought there was some potential, not in the UK market but in the US where they have more of an open mind to testing new ideas. So we came up with a sexy brand name and concept, put Greenbottle together with Truett Hurst, a winery group we have a strong relationship with, and sold in the brand to some retailers. Honestly, we had everyone biting our hand off for the product.

Will Paperboy be available in the UK?

No. Greenbottle couldn’t find a retailer brave enough to even trial it. And even if they did they’d want to stick it on promotion like everything else. We’re interested in using innovation to drive value up.

How scalable is this product? Will we ever see it in mass production for volume brands, or is this something that will require a huge investment before that could happen?

The production development for this product has been tough but they now have it together on a commercial scale and we’re talking about many millions of units next year.

What has the consumer reaction been, more importantly, the distribution chain’s reaction? Any issues of display, shipping, returns? 

The distribution chain has been over the moon because everything is so much lighter. They can fit twice as much wine on lorries – lorries are packed by weight – so they save a load of money on fuel. The retailers are getting behind it, just take a look at the attached picture, because it’s really good wine with something real to contribute to the environment. The energy saving is huge, almost 85% energy saving on glass bottles.

Influencers are hugely interested as this is something really unique and we’ve purposely created the brand launch to appeal to early adopters so the influence will trickle down. It’s been amazing at making wine appealing to a younger consumer.

Where next?

Where next for paper bottles? We’re rolling out the idea to other beverages. Where next for wine bottles? We’ve a load of new ideas in development and now we’ve got a platform in the US there’s no stopping innovation.

The innovation is already happening. Our task is to create a positive language to support this.

What do you think?

Is innovation in packaging the route to reducing wine category confusion?

UPDATE: Some comments from:

Twitter:

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I have seen the future of artisan wine, and it comes in a can

This may sound odd, but there is a link between packaging innovation and the increasing focus on biodynamics and ‘natural wine’, it just isn’t a simple one.

I am not suggesting that natural wine producers are better served choosing tetrapacks, paper bottles or aluminium cans for their wines (although they might), but sometimes the simplest way to define what you ARE about is to explain what you are NOT, after all:

  • a desert is that area where rain doesn’t fall
  • land is all that planet surface not covered by water
  • silence is the absence of sound

Wine in a can

Wine in a can

The wine trade expends a lot of effort arguing over differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines for example, but almost none trying to find a way to differentiate between the real extremes of the wine market, namely between all of the above ‘artisan’ wines and those wines made to be sold in vast volumes through mass distribution channels such as supermarkets. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade pretended that these wines in supermarkets didn’t even exist.

How do you explain to a consumer, in simple terms, what makes a bottle of Gallo Chardonnay different from a Gravner Ribolla Gialla? What ‘category’ of the market do they fall into? How is a consumer to differentiate between them when they both come in 75cl glass bottles, with similar corks and basic paper labels?  We need to develop a POSITIVE categorisation of these volume wines in order to have a meaningful conversation about the different needs and benefits of each part of the market.

ARTISANAL WINES

We may not all agree that ‘Natural’ is a fair category name, but we might all basically agree that the Gravner, and thousands of other small producers, are ‘Artisanal’ wines of some sort (read this great post by Robert Joseph on the subject of artist vs artisan).

Defining this is very hard however, so let’s take a “model” Artisan wine and say it probably comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities, that is different year on year, that has some taste characteristics that sets it apart from the vast majority of other wines (that not everyone will like) and is linked to the local ‘terroir‘, and that none of these factors are subject to change based on consumer feedback. Essentially, the wine is driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards, take it or leave it. Lots of wines will diverge on some of these points, but the general sense is there.

Artisanal wines are Producer driven (these are sometimes referred to as Terroir wines, but you still need a producer involved!)

The above is obviously not the driving motivation of the wines on offer in multiple grocers around the world. So, what do you call the rest?

  • Branded? No! Branding is very limited and not exclusive to this area.
  • Bulk? No, too negative and not necessarily true
  • Commodity? A good option, but it still implies a negative view of the factors.

How about a term like “Convenience Wines”?

CONVENIENCE WINES

The key features of these wines is that they are dependable, consistent, easy to drink, not overly challenging and widely available. All of these are driven by consumer demand, not producer preference. In simple terms, then, ‘Artisanal’ wines are wines that are NOT ‘Convenience’ wines.

Wine snobs may sneer at the quality of the “wine” in the bottle, but in fact this is only one aspect of the product that consumers are after. What’s the use of a “great” wine that I can’t afford, can’t find and may not even like? Great for whom?

Convenience wines are Consumer driven (to the extent that wine producers really understand their consumers).

The problem is that convenience wines still LOOK like artisanal wines.

If convenience is the key to this category of wine, then we have a reason to work to increase convenience by looking not just at wine styles, but also at packaging, branding & communication.

For example, glass bottles are great for longer term storage of wine, often benefitting artisanal wines. However, alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, paper bottles or wine pouches for example, is logical in this context of convenience. It is potentially cheaper, easier to transport, more flexible for different drinking occasions, more flexible for branding and offers more communication opportunities. A wholesale move into alternatives would bring down their costs and remove a great deal of cost from the product, potentially meaning higher margins and/or cheaper products.

GreenBottle Paper Wine Bottle Alternative packaging has not really taken off in the UK compared to, for example, Scandinavia. One reason is that we treat ALL products of fermented grapes as “wine”, so the same communication rules are applied to all, resulting in an undifferentiated sea of “handmade” wines, from “historic vineyards“, made by “passionate” individuals that match any food you may choose to pair them with – whatever the truth might be.

If we were to find a way to promote the specific attributes of Convenience Wine and differentiate them visually, in terms of branding and communication as well as style, the wine retail market could be made more straightforward for the consumer, to everyone’s benefit. Wine drinkers might no longer be confused about the difference between a simple wine for weeknight supping, and the experience of an artisan wine for special occasions.

Isn’t it in the interests of both ends of the spectrum to come to an arrangement?

Sometimes, the worst of enemies can find common cause, and in this case it is to fight consumer confusion and indifference.

I’ll raise a can of wine to that!

Send me a wine postcard, I’m thirsty!

On the subject of wine innovation, one thing I forgot to post was a very quick video shot of Patrick Schmitt, Editor of The Drinks Business, sampling a new form of single-pour packaging, called OneGlass at the Fine Wine Fair.

The concept is a single pour of only 100ml, which is actually less than the smallest small glass of wine in the UK (currently 125ml), in a tear-away package that requires no corkscrew, and probably no glass!

The package is meant to look like a cardboard cut-out of a bottle, and  is so thin it could probably be taken for this. I imagine it would be really easy to take on travels, picnics, or even into those places that might usually frown on alcohol being consumed.

It’s almost like getting a wine postcard!

Interestingly, although I had no idea how long it had been in this package, nor how it had been handled, the wine was not tainted, and pretty much delivered what it promised – a drinkable Italian Sangiovese.

What more can you ask of a pack?

No idea how many producers will use these, nor how consumers will adapt to the package or the serving size, but it is certainly a brave concept.

Update: there is a limited amount of further information, and a lot of marketing spin, on the producer’s website at http://www.oneglass.it/:

The materials are apparently:

Oneglass, made of paper (75%), polyethylene (20%) and aluminium (5%), is a packaging that can either be entirely recycled or used as a bio-fuel.
In the former case, it is disposed of with waste paper and then its elements are separated and re-used, in their raw material state, respectively in the paper and plastic industry. As a bio-fuel, however, the paper is burned cleanly, the polyethylene is transformed into water vapour and carbon dioxide, while the aluminium becomes aluminium oxide, a substance that is then used to produce paper.  Two different ways for 100% recyclability.

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Packaging: think green, but what about the wine?

I’ve often looked at innovations in wine packaging on the blog. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Innovations might appeal to the imagination of consumers and give them new reasons and opportunities to explore wine
  2. The wine business, like all others, needs to move with the times and ‘go green(er)’
  3. (and I quite like checking out new things .. oh, wait, that’s 3!)

When producers innovate with their packaging, moving away from heavy glass towards recyclable plastic or tetra-pack containers, or using new closures such as screwcaps or glass stoppers, we should applaud them for their concerns and their commitment.

But what about the effect on the wine?

Would you drink wine from a plastic bottle, can or carton?

Sample bottles

When it comes to some changes, such as the use of screwcaps instead of cork, research has already demonstrated the many potential benefits to the wine itself (in certain conditions). It has actually also helped to improve the cork business and fostered innovation there too.

However, plastic bottles are another issue, and one that has not been explored scientifically until now (that I know of).

So, why use ‘plastic’ bottles? The main arguments are:

  • They are MUCH lighter, so transport costs (and therefore the ‘carbon footprint‘ of the bottle) are much reduced
  • Certain plastics are less energy intensive to produce and recycle than glass
  • The demand for recycled green glass is not high (in UK), so let’s focus away from it
  • Usually used where wine is shipped “in bulk” to modern plants near where the wine will be bought, and not in inefficient small lots in wineries around the world
  • Better from a health & safety perspective (fewer bits of broken glass)

If all else was the same, then it would seem sensible, right?

The problem, all else does not seem to be exactly the same, but until now wine experts could be accused of being ‘snobbish’ about these bottles if they criticised them. However, the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV) in Bordeaux are conducting a long-term study on the effect of different wine containers on the same red & white wines.

The ISVV packaged the same wines in large & small bottles of glass, two types of plastic bottle (single PET and multi-layer PET) and also in a 3L Bag-in-Box. It is still early days, but there are some key and obvious results already after 12 months. If you are interested, the overview presentation is included here (but I list some key observations below)

For white wines, the cheapest and lightest plastic (single-layer PET) shows dramatic deterioration compared to glass. This is confirmed by the ISVV tasters observations and scientific analysis (and my own tasting). In fact, for the smallest bottles (187ml) the damage starts after only 3 months with oxygen levels increasing (oxidation) and the protective SO2 (sulphur dioxide) levels decreasing rapidly after 6 months. In summary, it would seem that these bottles are really not suitable for white wines for more than a few weeks, not months.

The situation is not much better for more expensive multi-layer PET or bag in box, but in any case there is a marked difference of all alternatives compared to glass.

The results are less conclusive for red wines – so far. It does look like a similar pattern will hold true, but it takes longer to be noticeable on red wines I guess.

The ISVV could not include other alternatives such as tetra-pack or wine pouches as they could not put the same wine they used in the study in these formats.

I can’t say any of these conclusions comes as a great surprise to me, but it is good to have some sort of numbers and ‘evidence’ to point to. Thinner plastic bottles that flex more are more likely to create opportunities for gasses to get in/out of the bottle, and wine is a very delicate product. Smaller bottles will suffer proportionally more as the volume of wine is smaller. A delicate white wine will suffer from oxidation faster than a more robust red.

So, should we simply stop experimenting and stick to glass?

Not at all. We need to continue to innovate and look for opportunities to make changes that will help consumers, be better for the environment and be better value for producers. However, the wine itself should not suffer.

So, next time you are shopping for wine (for example, see below for announcements by M&S), will you be tempted by the plastic bottle? What would make you try them?

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